A jail for human rights criminals
Steps being proposed during bimonthly cabinet meetings are aimed at deterring Africans from coming here. But will the law recognize the differences between people on the basis of skin color?
Once every two weeks, the cabinet convenes in order to discuss the "migrants from Africa." The discussions serve as a forum for a plethora of proposals, some of them wacky, like the suggestion to begin a campaign in Africa to explain why it isn't worthwhile to come here. Others are patently vindictive: imprison them in a tent city in the Negev, forbid them to work (this has already been done ), and forbid them to send money to their families back in Africa.
Recently there have been a large number of proposals aimed at isolating the migrants by defining assistance to them as a crime. Under these proposals, helping migrants send money to relatives in Africa or renting out an apartment to migrants would be punishable by prison. Even if only some of these proposals are accepted, it will be necessary to set up a special jail for human rights criminals. Perhaps in a tent city in the Negev.
Maybe it is possible to isolate several tens of thousands of Africans who are here now, but contrary to the picture that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai are trying to paint, the Africans are not the largest group of migrants in Israel illegally. According to the Population, Immigration and Border Authority's data, based among other things on figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics, in the year 2010 (last year's figures have not yet been published ), in addition to some 60,000 migrants from Africa, there were also about 14,000 other migrant laborers in Israel whose visas had expired. And some 95,000 migrants had entered the country as tourists and stayed on to work.
All of these people, more than 100,000 altogether, remain here illegally. Most of the Africans actually have a permit to be here and they cannot be deported because they are collectively protected, since their lives would be endangered if they are sent back to their countries of origin. Some 45,000 of the tourists who remained are citizens of Russia, Ukraine, and other countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. Their number is greater than the number of migrants from Eritrea (35,000 ).
Russia and Ukraine are, in fact, also considered countries with a high incidence of tuberculosis. But no one would declare that those here illegally from the former Soviet Union are spreading disease, and hospitals would not isolate them. The total number of former tourists is larger than the number of migrants from Africa plus the migrant workers who lack permits. But no one would accuse them of being an existential threat or a danger to Zionism and they would not be imprisoned in tent encampments.
In the draft law calling for the imprisonment of migrants from Africa, there is an explanation that states that "the proposed arrangement is a special and more severe law that will apply to infiltrators as opposed to those who remain here illegally." Why? Because a tourist or a migrant worker entered the country legally and only later violated the law by staying on without permission, while an infiltrator "entered Israel knowingly not via a border station, and his entry into the country was from the start illegal?"
It is possible to argue about the way in which the severity of the crime is rated. But according to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which Israel helped to formulate and to which it is a signatory, entering a country illegally is not considered a crime if the person entering is seeking refuge. As noted, this is the situation with regards to most of the migrants from Africa.
The steps being proposed during the bimonthly cabinet meetings are aimed at deterring the Africans from coming here. But we cannot assume that the law will recognize the differences between people who remain here without a permit on the basis of their skin color. What will happen then? Will the companies that transfer money and offer their services to tens of thousands of Filipinos and Ukrainians risk being fined? Will landlords who rent out apartments to more than 100,000 people be brought to trial? On second thought, even if only some of these laws are passed, the jail for human rights criminals will be the right place to be.